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Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 22

Illustration from “Right Where You Are Sitting Now” for “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.”

Week Twenty Two (pg. 361-382 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 15&16, Part III all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Chapter 15 should be considered in light of an earlier article by RAW that was seemingly written during the time of the composition of either The Earth Will Shake or The Widow’s Son: “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.” (The name of the article is not-coincidentally named after a play that has already been briefly mentioned in our posts The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade better known as Marat/Sade.)

In the beginning of the essay RAW mentions “This interest was particularly concrete at this time because there was one part of the historical Novel that was giving him trouble. His hero, Sigismundo Celine, had seen a meteorite fall. Celine had dragged the Damned Things, which couldn’t exist according to 18th-century science, to the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Naturally, he was roundly denounced and mocked for his troubles. This was accurate: anyone who reported a meteorite to 18th-century scientists was treated like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind today.” Obviously, there were some changes made during the time in between the original High Times article and the final draft of The Widow’s Son. Instead we see our secondary protagonist Sir John dragging his stone and sanity before the uncompromising panel of scientists from The Royal Scientific Society.

Sir Charles Nagas is obviously a stand in for Carl Sagan. Sagan wasn’t present during the panel on “Science and Pseudoscience” that inspired RAW’s essay but his debate with Emmanuel Velikovsky is mentioned and our Author seems to think Sagan wasn’t fair to the iconoclast author of Worlds in Collision. As in the novel the Author takes time to point out that Nagas had discovered nothing himself but rather was merely well known as he wrote often for the papers and journals, RAW refers to Sagan simply as a “television scientist” in his earlier essay. I can understand RAW’s disdain for scientists who seem to think that proficiency in one of the multitudinous branches of science such as evolutionary biology (Dawkins), astrophysics (Tyson), mechanical engineering (Nye) makes them an (or the) authority on every facet of reality. These science communicators who follow in Sagan’s mold do as much to repel the public away from science as they do to popularize it. I don’t really need some creep who doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up online or a former kids television host telling me whether God exists or not but they sure seem to think I do. These science popularizers’ extraordinarily high regard for themselves led to the markedly evangelical efforts of atheists in the early 21st century by scientists such as Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, the aforementioned Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Like the unruly “Herbert Sharper” in the narrative, whose bigotry against “Papists” and “Moslems” is on full display during Sir John’s tribunal, these atheist-evangelists have at times shown that they are no scientists but rather run-of-the-mill bigots (see Harris and his hellish alliance with right wing thinkers to promote an anti-Muslim philosophy).

Gardner Marvins is obviously a stand-in for Martin Gardner who was known for his love of Lewis Carrol and GK Chesterton, his mathematical puzzles, and his founding role of CSICOP (now CSI). (RAW mentions a novel with a scientist named Bertha Van Ation that is in the works- he must have been talking about the novels in the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy which also include a cocaine-addicted writer names Marvin Gardens.) Gardner, like his counterpart, had a lighter touch than other self-appointed skeptic inquisitions, but his works, such as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, drip with paternalistic condescension for those who aren’t in lockstep with his understanding of current scientific consensus. (See also Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.)

The most belligerent member of the panel, Herbert Sharper, remains something of a mystery to me; his name is not a simple transposition of a famous scientist. After reading RAW’s article I can only deduce that Sharper is based on The Amazing Randi himself. Years ago I wrote about the so-called skeptic movement in the paranormal community and contended that it was nothing more than a movement of evangelical atheists who believe that current human knowledge is nigh-infallible. Nothing happens that cannot be explained by our human understanding of the universe. In that essay I quoted RAW’s article and can think of no better commentary on Randi and his character: “Finally, the high point of the morning arrived, in the form of The Amazing Randi, as he styles himself. Randi looks like Santa Claus and talks like the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep.-Wis.) Randi is not a Liberal by any definition but a real, old-fashioned, honest-to-Cthulhu Conservative, fire-breathing variety. He wants to hit the heretics on the head with a blunt instrument.

You see, The Amazing Randi is of the school of thought which holds that he and his friends have the only ‘real’ reality-labyrinth on the planet. All proponents of alternative reality-labyrinths are therefore, by definition, a bunch of sneaks, cheats, and liars. This is the best rhetorical stance for a heresy-hunter, since it is rooted deeply in the primate psychology… Hitler pointed this out in Mein Kampf, every demagogue knows it, and Randi, an old showman, plays it to the hilt.

Randi’s presentation consisted of saying five different ways that the heretics are a bunch of dishonest bastards who lie morning, noon and night, and lie in their sleep just to keep in practice.  Then, in case there were any dullards in the audience who hadn’t gotten his message, Randi said it again, five more ways. The Journalist [Wilson refers to himself in different ways throughout the piece to show where his mindset was at] hadn’t heard such oratory since Jim Garrison way in his heyday, finding new Kennedy assassins every second newsbreak. It was a smashing performance, and the Sociobiologist was convinced that most of the audience were breathing harder and starting to tense their muscles before it was half over. Primate mode psychology at its most primitive.”

A footnote mentions how Hanfkopf disregards Barney and Betty Hill’s experience in New England as merely being caused by the stress of being an interracial couple in mid-century America. For anyone who has studied ufology this is a common explanation to write off the couple’s odd sojourn. In RAW’s essay a young physicist by the name of Stanton Friedman stands up to argue that some objects in the sky are unidentified and is roundly castigated. Friedman would become one of the leading authorities on the Barney and Betty Hill case on the side of those who aren’t sure what happened to the couple all those decades ago.

This chapter serves the same purpose of the essay: to show how certain humans are of their mastery of time and space despite the fact that we may presume, if there is a future, that our knowledge will grow and past convictions will become droll mistakes. Like the Royal Scientific Society, who are only aware of seventeen elements, it seems those who crusade on behalf of Science put the cart of certainty ahead of the horse of doubt which is, after all, the true driver of inquiry. (It is also humorous that the narrator mentions the full 92 elements that compose the universe as we are currently up to 118.) Given a choice between Randi and his ilk, I’d much rather hang out with the Divine Marquis.

Across the channel Sigismundo is still being bombarded by false circumstances that take place all over the continent and during different times. As he is being held in an English asylum in the nineteenth century Sigismundo again turns the tables on his interrogators before their conversation turns away from a concerned doctor and patient to initiate and interrogator. The symbolism of Masonry and mysticism swirls around as the drugged Sigismundo grapples through these staged circumstances: as he is led away by the Three Ruffians Sigismundo believes he is going to be thrown back in the well but is instead simply put back in his cell. The well refers to one of the initiatory rites of the O.T.O..

From Eric Wagner: “Well, with the Masonic talk in this week’s reading, I figured we might use the whole of Bergman’s Magic Flute. I considered “She Blinded Me with Science”, but I opted for Mozart.

(Eric sent this as a follow up to Tom and I and I asked his permission to share it here. My thanks to you.) “I hope all goes well. In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed. Peace.”


Eric Wagner said...

Last millennium I formed the Society of Gardner which sought the hidden esoteric meanings behind Gardner’s seemingly narrow pronouncements.

Oz Fritz said...

I saw Carl Sagan introduce Gary Hart at a campaign rally when Hart was running for President in 1984. The rally took place outside the NYU Student Union building just south of Washington Square in New York City. It occurred very close, or on the the spot of where Aleister Crowley lived on Washington Square South St., one of his NY residences during WW I. It was in this apartment where his painting career began in earnest and where he met Leah Hirsig.

Sagan appeared cool, confident, easy-going and humorous. He was a celebrity at the time, maybe the first scientist (pseudo or otherwise) celebrity after Einstein. Hart and his security detail passed by me on their way out and I remember thinking that he looked very Kennedyesque

Oz Fritz said...

This week we read Chapters 15 & 16.

15 = Aiyn = the letter O = The Devil, the manifestation of untempered male energy.

16 = Vau = the letter V or F = The Hierophant who communicates the secrets of the Temple.

In Chapter 16 RAW presents a seemingly straightforward and revealing account of Masonic symbolism as he sees it, in the interrogation of Sigismundo which could be real or hallucinatory. It comes out that the stone that the builders rejected symbolically represents Women. (p. 251) "The symbolism of the stone that is rejected becoming the corner-stone (cornerstone is hyphenated because of the line break in the Bluejay edition): the stone that is rejected in Christianity is the female."

Chapter 15 concerns a group of men rigidly, inflexibly, and dogmatically attached to their "scientific" prejudices and belief systems. They literally reject a stone that eyewitnesses observed falling from the sky. There seems a connection between the rejection of this stone and the rejection of the stone in Masonic symbolism mentioned in the following chapter. The complete lack of receptivity, a feminine trait, by the Committee shows untempered male ignorance.

p. 245; "... having decided that he was not dealing with detached and impartial rationalists but with a group much like the opposition party in the House..." Leaving aside the qabalistic pun illustrating resistance to the Great Work, the behavior of the men on the Committee does very much sound like and resemble the behavior and rejection of eyewitness testimony by members of the House Republican party in the recent, ongoing prosecution of the corrupt American President.

p.247: He had been given drugs so often – and he suspected he had been given so many different drugs – that he was no longer sure what was memory and what was dream or hallucination." This seems to show what happened to Leary when he entered back into the U.S. prison system after his escape according to Joanna Leary in her excellent book, "Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

It seems to me that Chapter 16, while literally talking about genetics and the genetic code, could also be read to refer to the bloodline of Jesus, taking us back to the "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" book that Wilson keeps referring to. There are discussions in the book about what the Templars might have found in Jerusalem at the site of Solomon's temple.

Oz Fritz said...

I agree, Tom, that what Sigismundo says about "the seed" recalls the Jesus lineage plot thread. It also suggests another variation on the meaning of the Widow's son. The phallus dies after it gives forth the seed in the sex act therefore regeneration illustrates a form of death and rebirth.

The final question that stumps Sigismundo appears interesting. He had already stated his answers about Masonary as symbolic rather than literal, but it seems both the interrogator and Sigismundo took the last question regarding what the Templars found at the Temple as literal.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem stands as the last remnant of one of the earliest Temples at the sight where Solomon built his, subsequently burnt down and rebuilt. I attempted to psychometrize this wall on a visit to Jerusalem about 6 years ago and had an interesting vision which I wrote about in a blog about my trip to Israel.

It seems the conflict between science and mysticism gets highlighted in Chapter 15. The scientists on the committee get confronted with something mystical for them, a rock falling out of the sky, by Babcock, a practicing mystic of the Freemasonry persuasion. Crowley appeared much concerned with uniting science and mysticism. Tobias Churton's extremely good new book, "Aleister Crowley in India" examines the genesis of this approach that would eventually engender the motto: "We place no reliance on Virgin or Pigeon. Our method is science, our aim is religion."

The earliest essay on this subject by Crowley - "Science and Buddhism" in which he opines that Buddhism in its pure state represents the most scientific of religions. Churton provides excellent summaries of this and other early works composed in India:

"As religion would need to adopt the boon of science, so science must be prepared to investigate superational categories of being, when such could be demonstrated. Somewhere in the back of Crowley's mind was the vision of a kind of 'mega-science' to come, born from the pangs of a decaying, materialistic era, whose midwives were science and magic both."

My father was a scientist (biophysics) with a strong interest in paranormal phenomena, witchcraft, and astrology. He and his prof buddy, an archeologist, taught an elective at the University on paranormal phenomena. I could never get him to commit to an opinion of whether he thought it real or not.

Alias Bogus said...

A particularly fine set of notes from Gregory.

I have no desire to appear perversely contrarian (since the internet seems to have led to more arguing than debating/discussing), and I was delighted to hear that Nagas meant Sagan (when I had wandered off into sacred snakes, cobras, etc). It seems entirely likely that Bob intended a satire of The Amazing Randi, in Sharper, but at that point I pull back.

Bob teases his kids for being vegetarians, and into astrology, in Cosmic Trigger. Both, interests of mine. No two people seem likely to feel fully aligned. Perhaps I come from a slightly different generation. My sister, only 2-3 years older than me, came from the 50s and Elvis, but I belonged to the Sixties. So I feel perfectly happy to disagree with RAW about some things.

I have no idea about the actual personalities of Martin Gardner or James Randi, but I used to routinely read Gardner’s “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American, for the wonderful mix of maths, magic, optical illusions, paradoxes, and other wonders. OK, his longer books (Fads and Fallcies in the Name of Science, 1957) seemed to dismiss out of hand (say) General Semantics or Homeopathy, but I always consider other people as complex beings, often with some kinds of compartmentalization (or cognitive dissonance). Let’s face it, MLA students thought of Ezra Pound as “a fascist” and Bob worked hard to disabuse us of such a simple label, so we might approach The Cantos.

For me, as an ex-conjuror, Randi took on the kind of people who believe (or at least, promote the belief) that (for instance) the world got created 6000 years ago, or that they can cure cancer, or heal the sick and take all their money. Derren Brown has done some wonderful work in this realm. I delighted in Johnny Carson (an ex-conjuror) making Uri Geller look stupid, simply by imposing simple constraints that any ‘proper scientist’ should have imposed in their original studies (I feel suspicious of Puthoff and Targ at SRI). That doesn’t mean I dismiss all possible parapsychological events, I just assume that most/many religions, gurus, movements, etc. use tricks, and it seems advisable that one study those tricks first, to attempt to tease out who to trust, to eliminate studying trivia (or nonsense) and focus on genuinely fruitful possibilities.
We can see that uncertainty about which people you have made yourself vulnerable to forms a regular part of the initiation nervousness. RAW’s whole theme (as an optimist) seems to imply that we can find useful stuff in these studies (pretty little birdies, picking in the turdies), but I feel fairly certain he didn’t recommend mindless gullibility…

Randi may prove a “nutcase” in other ways, just as the author of Korzybski’s biography( that I had found really interesting) blocked me on Facebook, perhaps because I said something rude about Trump. I remember Bob appearing lukewarm about Kodish’s more popular book – Drive Yourself Sane – when we asked in the MLA if he considered a useful introductory text.

I do try to keep these issues separate.

I still don’t know who has Sigismundo in thrall. I don’t feel entirely convinced the events happen in London. Hospices in the name of St John of God seem to appear later in history, and elsewhere. I do find St John of God interesting, in that he seems to have taken Christ literally, giving away his wealth, etc, and so ended up in an asylum!

I liked the nod to Simon Vinkenoog, an influential Dutch poet, as the unknown philosopher (Onbekende Filosoof).